Jamaal Williams assembled a collection of college-bound basketball all-stars, but the Seattle Rotary coach needed a linchpin to bind them together.
And not just anybody.
That person had to be strong willed, selfless and secure enough to coexist on a talent-rich summer AAU team highlighted by Jaden McDaniels, RaeQuan Battle, Paolo Banchero and Noah Williams.
“It was the perfect situation,” Jamaal Williams said. “Jaden and Rae hadn’t made their name. Noah didn’t have expectations. These guys were D-1 recruits, but they didn’t have that fame attached to them.
“When Marcus Tsohonis came, we had success.”
Williams, a former Washington Husky standout, has watched closely while Tsohonis has recently made a rapid ascent from the bottom of UW’s roster and into a starring role.
Two weeks ago, the former three-star recruit was redshirting and waiting until next season to get back on the court.
And last week, Tsohonis averaged 12.5 points off the bench in a pair of games, including a dazzling 14-point performance during a heartbreaking 64-61 overtime loss to then-No. 8 Oregon.
“I think we’ve solved our Quade situation,” coach Mike Hopkins said referring to the absence of sophomore point guard Quade Green, who is ineligible, and two botched attempts to find his replacement.
Tsohonis is expected to make his first start 5 p.m. PT Thursday when Washington (12-7, 2-4 Pac-12) plays at Utah (10-7, 1-4).
“I’m just ready for the opportunity,” said Tsohonis, who is averaging 5.2 points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.3 rebounds. “I stayed ready even when I was redshirting. I just worked hard and kept my head down and kept pushing.”
After losing Green, the Huskies initially turned to Elijah Hardy, who got his first start during a 61-55 loss at Stanford. The sophomore point guard finished with two points on 1-for-7 shooting, three assists, three steals and three turnovers in 31 minutes.
During the past three games, sophomore Jamal Bey has started with mixed results. The 6-6 wing is a capable scorer, but he’s isn’t a natural playmaker and his ball-handling deficiencies were exposed against Oregon’s full court trap.
“I just felt like it was a lot to handle so we decided to play Marcus more,” Hopkins said. “He just settles everything down.”
In many ways, the Huskies, who have lost five of the past seven games, are pinning their postseason hopes on their 6-foot-3 point guard who has played just six games.
“He’s got really good instincts,” Hopkins said. “He’s a basketball player. He knows angles. He’s got a lot of good natural feel, knows how to get a shot at the end of a shot clock if he has to. Pretty cerebral in that regard, but still young.”
In an attempt to showcase Tsohonis’ poise, Hopkins re-enacted the conversation when he told the Husky freshman that he was no longer redshirting.
Hopkins: “Marcus, Quade can’t play anymore. Do you want to play or not?”
Tsohonis: “Yeah, I want to play, Coach.”
Hopkins: “Alright, let’s go. You ready? You want to go play? Alright.”
And Hopkins added: “He’s a basketball player. I don’t want to put too much pressure on him. I was just impressed with how he hadn’t played, then plays in a big-time environment against a really good team and showed a lot of poise, a lot of patience, he got us in our sets, and he executed our defense. That’s what you want.”
Despite an unorthodox shot, Tsohonis has converted 5 of 11 three-pointers and has been efficient on mid-range jumpers in traffic.
“He plays at his own pace,” Williams said. “He’s 6-3 or 6-4, so Marcus is not a little guy. You can’t get him off his spot or get him to go where he doesn’t want to go.”
Williams, an assistant coach for the Garfield High boys basketball team, initially became enamored with Tsohonis when he led Portland’s Jefferson High with 17 points during a 63-57 loss to the Bulldogs.
“I watched him and said he’s using an arm bar and getting to everywhere he wants to get to,” Williams said. “He had the guard o his back and hitting that little floater and I was like, ‘We got to figure out something else or this dude is going to kill us.’
“When he joined (Seattle Rotary), it was the perfect storm. … There were nights when Jaden got it going and Rae got it going and Marcus would be the third scorer. He was always a complementary player and had such a good feel that he would figure out what his role was and what was needed from him for the team to be successful.”
Tsohonis talks at least once a week with Williams, who has taken on a mentorship role with his former point guard.
“The thing I told him is continue do what he’s doing,” Williams said. “ ‘Do what you’re good at. That’s why they gave you a scholarship. Don’t try to do anything out of the box or out of character. Run the team. Make your shots. Mix it up and get rebounds. Do the things you’ve always done.
“And get your conditioning up. Playing zero minutes to 36 is a big jump.’ So we talked about that. Go and get some extra cardio in because he’s going to need it.”